Save Southwark Woods

Archived Articles

London needs all its woods. Khan supports National Park City, but has agreed felling acres of London woods for burial plots

23 September 2016

Mayor Sadiq Khan is very supportive of making London a National Park City.

But Khan has also just agreed the felling of many acres of inner city cemetery woods for burial plots.

This Wednesday, around 1,000 people attended an excellent event at the Royal Festival Hall with a wide range of speakers calling to make London the first National Park City in the world.

One of the speakers was the London Mayor’s Health Advisor, Dr Tom Coffey.

Dr Coffey said how keen Mayor Khan is to get London National Park City status which is part of Khan’s commitment to greening London.

London’s urban forest currently absorbs a sixth of the city’s deadly air pollution, which kills nearly 10,000 Londoners early each year. Khan says he wants to plant two million trees to help.

But Mayor Khan has simultaneously given London boroughs the green light to fell acres of inner city woods, thousands of trees, to dig up old graves for ‘new’ burial plots.

London’s municipal cemeteries are some of the most wild nature places in London, where woods have grown up around the old graves.  Think Highgate or Nunhead Cemetery.

Southwark, the test case, has already cleared two acres of Grade 1 SINC woods for burial plots, with at least ten more acres still for the chop. And hundreds more acres of inner city woods are now at risk across the city.

Khan and over 200 wards across London’s boroughs have signed up to making London a National Park City. It now looks like it could actually happen.

But campaigners are looking for action from Khan to save acres of woods under threat right now.

Why is Khan agreeing to the felling of thousands of inner city trees to bury people?

“Prepare to watch hundreds of trees being felled in your borough’s cemeteries, and your parents’ and grandparents’ graves mounded over or dug up,” says Blanche Cameron, spokesperson for the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries’ campaign Save Southwark Woods.

“That’s what’s happening in Southwark right now.”

“We cannot cut down trees to bury people, it’s madness. Woods are the lungs of London – we need more not less. We are calling on politicians and people to make our inner city cemeteries Nature Reserves and use the burial space that already exists on the edge of the city.”

Meanwhile, the hideous irony of cutting down trees to bury people is not lost on residents and campaigners. Southwark says borough demand for burial plots is about 200 a year.

That’s roughly the same number as died early from air pollution related illnesses in the borough last year. Their graves are waiting – and our beautiful, valuable inner city woods are dying for it.

Below: The vandalism for private burial plots begins. Two acres of Grade 1 SINC woods felled in February at Camberwell Old Cemetery, and some of the beautiful ten acres of woods, graves and memorials still under threat from Southwark’s chainsaws and diggers

Grade 1 SINC woods after
Camberwell Old Cemetery
Sadiq Khan at tree week
Sadiq Khan

Above: Mayor Sadiq Khan celebrating London’s trees at City Hall with the Tree Charter as part of London Tree Week in May

The response from Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office:

Dear Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries,

Thank you for your correspondence to the Mayor.

There is a London-wide shortage of burial sites. All London Boroughs have been developing cemetery strategies to ensure that there is sufficient supply of burial spaces based on the principle of proximity to local communities and the different requirements for types of provision. This is consistent with London Plan policy (Policy 7.3 Burial Spaces). Section 74 of the London Local Authorities Act (2007) allows the re-use of graves in certain circumstances; London Plan policy encourages boroughs to actively examine the potential for re-use to help address the acute shortage of supply in London.

Southwark Council’s cemetery strategy was subject to public consultation. The Mayor does not have any formal powers to intervene to prevent the council implementing their plans for these sites. Although the plans for the cemeteries will result in the removal of a significant number of mature trees, the council has committed to managing both sites in a way which is consistent with their designation as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation.

The Mayor is committed to strengthening the protection for London’s green spaces and plans to improve London Plan policy in the forthcoming review of the plan. The Mayor will be working with the boroughs to ensure that where there are competing uses for existing green space (as in the case at the Camberwell cemeteries) matters relating to public access and ecology are part of a fully integrated approach to the design and management of these spaces.

The Mayor has recently announced a range of measures to tackle London’s acute air pollution resulting from emissions from diesel vehicles and other sources of particulates. He also recognises the important role that trees and vegetation have in cleaning London’s air, and he aims to increase the amount of tree cover in London over time to help deal with chronic air quality problems that that are common to all large urban areas. Due to London’s complex land-use needs this does not mean that all existing trees can be protected. However, the Mayor aims to increase protection, and accelerate new planting, through improved London Plan policy and projects he will initiate during his Mayoral term.

Yours sincerely

Public Liaison Officer

Greater London Authority